Now that I am officially middle-aged, I can say that the most pressing urge is not the need to buy a convertible or meditate under the moon or urinate (thankfully). It is the desire to Pass Along Advice.
Here is the top tip I wish I’d stumbled across when I was a novice editor/writer: Income matters, but so does job satisfaction. Be strategic about the work you take, and make sure that some (if not all) of it is work you actually enjoy.
If you’re thinking “Well, duh,” I salute you. You can stop reading. But if you’ve always thought that work has to feel like work, that it doesn’t matter whether you enjoy the 200-page final report from the Task Force to Evaluate the Value of Task Forces so long as you meet your deadline and get paid, then read on.
My first inkling that enjoyment might matter came about haphazardly. In 2012 I took a semi-sabbatical to write a novel. I handed my freelance clients to my business partners, covered the bills by continuing to teach (which seldom feels like work) and immersed myself in fiction.
When the year was up, I had the draft of a book. And zero desire to take back any of my clients.
Don’t get me wrong. In many important ways, my clients were great. They gave me steady work, they were pleasant to deal with, they paid well and on time. But the material! Most of it was dull, some of it stupefyingly so.
My second inkling came during the 2017 Editors Canada conference, at a session by Lana Okerlund (which later became an Editors BC seminar) on using performance measurement to assess your career. Lana suggested we evaluate our work strategically, measuring not just our income but variables such as how much we work, where our work comes from and how much we enjoy it.
It dawned on me during Lana’s talk that I had assessed my career in this strategic sort of way . . . well, never. My philosophy was basically: if you can squeeze the work in and it pays well, take it. Do you like the material? Is it interesting, creative, fun? Those were questions I’d never asked myself.
It also dawned on me that since my semi-sabbatical, I had somehow heeded those questions, albeit in an unconscious, non-strategic sort of way. Listening to my gut, I had left my former clients with my partners. Those clients would get better, fresher service from others anyhow. For a while, work was scarce. I spent a lot of time commending whoever invented the line of credit. But job by job, client by client, I rebuilt my roster, saying no to anything low on the satisfaction scale.
Now I edit and write material that I genuinely want to work on. If an offer comes along that makes me want to run, I run. Sometimes I worry about the economics of saying no. Then I remind myself that if I accept a job I don’t really want today, I may have to decline a fulfilling project tomorrow.
So far, so good. I have all the work I need. And I enjoy it.
“It’s taken me all my life to learn what not to play,” said the jazz great Dizzy Gillespie. #LFMF. Don’t wait most of your career to learn what jobs not to take.
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